Flying was out. Without knowing the range on that scream, there was no way of calculating whether or not she could get out of range in time, and if she didn’t then Alice risked an uncontrolled fall the next time that noise hit her ears. She might be able to get so high that he couldn’t risk stunning Alice without putting her in lethal danger, but if he got a scream off fast enough she’d just be adding fractured bones to her list of obstacles. Plus, she still hadn’t shown off her real power yet, and despite the dire circumstances she wanted to keep that going through at least the first match. As calmly as possible, which was more than she would have expected with a menacing Super bearing down on her, Alice cycled through her tactical options.
Without the ability to safely fly, she’d never outrun him in her staggered state, so fleeing was a non-starter. Offense was possible, she could shove him away or crank up the gravity to buy some time, but anything sustained was bound to be interrupted by that horrible noise Nelson let out. The fact that he’d stopped tipped off that he couldn’t scream indefinitely, like any other voice it needed rest. So she could, in theory, start hitting him with small bursts of gravity between the screams, creating distance and wearing him down. It was the safest strategy to use.
Which made it all the more of a pity that Alice had no intent of employing that tactic. If this were a real fight, there would be other factors to consider. Civilians, property, the chance for more criminals to get involved. Dean Blaine had said this was going to test them as Heroes, and Hero Alice wouldn’t put others in danger just to play it safe.
Taking a deep breath, she blocked out the fuzziness in her head and focused on her power, thankful for the practice she’d gotten squaring off against Thomas. This was going to take serious precision, especially in her weakened state, probably hurt like crazy, and then she’d still have to fight Nelson afterwards. On the upside, she expected a lot less people would talk shit about Subtlety students in Intramurals if it worked. As the world fell away and only the mad gambit filled her mind, Alice did have time for one final thought.
Genetics be damned, using a strategy like this made it all too clear that she and Vince were definitely cousins.
* * *
“He thinks he’s got this won, doesn’t he?” Vince leaned over to Nick, whispering so as not to give anything away to other nearby students. Chad wasn’t back from his post-match exam yet, but they’d fill him in when he made it. Pity he’d miss the show, but it didn’t look like it was going to last for much longer.
“Pretty girl, using advanced mind tactics, and spouting off about a Subtlety major? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say he’s under-estimating her.” Nick, in contrast to Vince, did not keep his voice low. If anything, he was being louder than needed, and more than a few stray glances turned their way. “If this match has a minute left in it, I’ll be downright shocked.”
“That sort of depends though,” Vince pointed out.
“You think so? Based on what, how hard Nelson is to damage?”
Vince shook his head. “How soon he’s smart enough to give up.”
Although it was close, Nick barely managed to hide his snickering fit in the throes of a fake cough, taking careful note of all the eavesdroppers who were suddenly looking at Lander with confusion or annoyance. It was a pain, really. He worked so hard on his trash-talk for the few occasions he got to use it, and then the way-too-honest people like Vince and Chad did a better job just by speaking their mind. Vince was right, though. If Alice was doing what Nick suspected, then Nelson was about to learn the hard way what it meant to surrender.
* * *
Nelson was racing forward, fist raised for a controlled attack that would injure Alice without risking serious damage, when suddenly he found himself up in the air once more. The ground fell away and he spun freely, until he came to a stop looking at the blonde woman. She was staggering on her feet, probably shaking off the last of his scream. It was impressive, not many people could come back that quickly. Too bad for her though, he could recharge faster than she could recover. Widening his jaw and drawing in air through his skin, he let out another screech, more than enough to destroy her concentration, if not render her outright unconscious.
There was a wobble in her stance, and then nothing. No drop to the ground, no grabbing her head in pain, nothing. It was like she hadn’t even heard the noise this time. As he watched, her head lifted, revealing a dangerous smile and eyes shining with violence. Stranger than that, however, were the twin trails of red dripping out of Alice’s ears, staining the shoulders of her white uniform.
“I’m going to leave your left arm free,” she yelled, much louder than was needed. “When you’re ready to surrender, give me a thumbs-up on that hand. Afraid I’m not going to be able to hear you give up verbally right now.” Alice pointed to her left ear, a slow trickle of blood still running out. “Popped both of my eardrums. Blew them out completely, in fact. Hurts like a fucker, let me tell you, but it’s just pain. I can deal with pain. I’ve had practice focusing and fighting through injury. You, on the other hand, are a tough guy with the power to neutralize your opponents. Something tells me you don’t have quite as much practice getting injured as I do. So remember: thumbs-up on the left hand. That’s the only way I’ll know to stop.”
Nelson didn’t have the chance to scream again, he was thrust violently into the ground, slightly harder than any of the other times she’d slammed him before. Was she… picking up right where she’d left off? After being screeched at and popping her own eardrums, she still remembered exactly how much force she’d been using before the counter-attack? At least it wasn’t enough to hurt him, thankfully, so the fight wasn’t over yet.
Three slams later, however, he was beginning to feel the ache. Alice was relentless; she didn’t even pause between attacks. Nelson was like a yo-yo, spinning up and then being hurled down over and over, each time harder than the last. Another slam, and he felt his thick skin fail to absorb the full shock. Another, and his joints felt like they’d been knocked out of line. Alice spun him slightly, adjusting his position and sending him down directly onto his legs. The snap of Nelson’s ankle was loud enough to be heard over his own screech, another vain attempt to break Alice’s concentration. Nothing was working. No matter how he struggled, or screamed, or tried to break free, she just stood there calmly. Blood running from her ears, a grin on her face, and not a single drop of mercy in those blazing green eyes. She was undeterred, pitiless, and more than a little terrifying. For the first time since he’d gotten powers, Nelson understood what it was to feel entirely helpless.
Another slam, cracking his shin this time, and Nelson gave the thumbs-up with his left hand. Instantly, Victor’s voice sounded over the intercom.
“Nelson Galloway has given up, making Alice Adair the winner of this match!”
From below, Alice was still standing there, looking around impatiently. “Hey! Someone come let me know if that counts and I won. I can’t hear the damn speakers!”